Site Tour: How do you transform your services? Sodexo’s multi-functional SSO opens the door to SSO Week delegates

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Site tour

During Shared Services and Outsourcing Week Europe [which ran in Manchester recently], we were fortunate enough to have Sodexo open its doors [literally] to a group of delegates interested in seeing its live operations.

Hosted by Lee Brittain, head of the finance team, and Carmen Drinkwater, who leads PeopleCentre, the HR Shared Services team, we were treated to a candid and open tour of Sodexo Shared Services’ modern offices near Salford Quays, in Manchester's Media City.

Globally, Sodexo runs 3 different Finance Shared Service Centres supporting 3 regions & 5 countries by driving people, process, technology, and customers, and has adopted the "quality of life" mantra of the global enterprise as its guiding light. Sodexo is the 19th largest employer in the world and runs prisons, delivers services at hospitals, supports sporting events such as The Open golf championship, and much more, through its facilities management and food services activities. In the UK and Ireland alone, Sodexo supports 34,000 staff.

Since launching the Shared Services Centre in 2006, there has been significant centralisation of activity in the Salford operations, which has become something of a feeder for enterprise talent.

Centralisation has really strengthened internal controls, Lee Brittain explained to the group, especially as there had been some weaknesses in areas like payroll, in the past. [Payroll had been brought into the Finance SSC, from HR, to benefit from the compliance-centric approach the Finance team was able to bring to the table.]

Finance Shared Services

Automation is playing a large role in today's service delivery, Lee said, given that there are a number of different versions of SAP globally. A number of “plug and play” solutions, such as Concur for T&E, have been implemented with great results. More recently, Basware for Purchase to Pay has also been implemented.


However, no matter how improved the processes, nor how modern the technology, “your people need to be motivated to perform”, Lee reminded us. “That is the job of management: to drive a productive team. But you need to do something different to keep the team motivated."

For Lee, this translates into a real effort to minimise bureaucracy and support flexible work hours, as well as:

  • regular breakfast briefings with the wider business in which commercial wins and losses are discussed openly
  • monthly cross-functional lunches with management and functional team members, whereby a manager's own reports are not included
  • staff forums run by non-managers
  • "skip meetings", where a level of management is “skipped”
  • recognition programs including “Stars on Broadway"
  • lean Six Sigma training to embed continuous improvement
  • a modern workplace to reflect collaborative engagement


What's been really key, he says, is visiting customer sites to better appreciate the working conditions, for example in prison services. "It's given us a real appreciation of the day-to-day routine of our customer base", Lee explained.

One of the biggest wins is in the area of cash collection, where the Finance Shared Services (FSS) team is proud that has achieved the lowest debt outstanding across the enterprise – one-tenth that of some of the other offices.

Lee Duckworth, who heads the credit group, explained that today, 96% of cash receipts are auto-allocated via Rimilia. "Our solution provider tells us we have hit the highest percentage auto-allocation of any of their clients ", he said.

The improvements that are being driven across FSS are all part of the "Aspirations 18" strategic two-year plan. Its roadmap was much photographed by the visiting group and is illustrated below. It is based on 10 aspirational positions with deliverables for each marked as tram stops on a map based on the local underground [subway] map.

Sodexo 18 aspirations

"It's been enormously inspirational to talk our teams through this roadmap," Lee Duckworth explained. “The visual part of it has made a real difference to setting and achieving goals and targets."

Also part of this visual incentive journey is the CI apple tree [see image], where projects are added and prioritised according to their impact. “Harvested” apples are at the bottom of the tree – those still “in progress” appear on its branches.

Sodexo apple tree

"Shared services is all about change – changes in personnel, in systems, in process, and now also in robotics,” Lee Duckworth said. “We are actively changing the landscape for the future and at the same time emphasizing softer skill sets around empathy and communication, to get there."

Human Resources Transformation

In parallel with Finance’s modernisation initiative, Carmen Drinkwater is leading her HR team in its own evolution project. "We are evolving HR for the future, to support the business as it progresses,” she explained. “In the past, we had difficulties meeting the business requirements for upscaling services quickly, as new bids for business were accepted. We were bogged down in administration. Today, we are leveraging case management; applicant tracking; and electronic personnel files – all of which are having a huge impact on our ability to deliver support.”

Carmen's team, too, is targeting digital opportunities. To this end, HR services has partnered with Financial services to consider leverage from the FSS’s Robotic Process Automation skills. "Since we centralised the service we have had the volume that warrants a business case for digital solutions, for example pre-employment checks such as Disclosure and Barring checks (DBS)” explained Carmen.

Service spirit Sodexo

“Our proximity and collaboration with Finance Shared Services has been enormously important in moving forward in this respect. If we were separated from Finance this would never have happened."

One facet of the modern HR services approach is the introduction of PeopleCenters that act as local HR business partners in the business, and that support HR strategy and people planning. This proximity, Carmen explained, has simplified the engagement with local operations to no end.

“One of the lessons learned from the early stages of transformation was that, where external consultants were driving the project team, we had internal members of our team working alongside, developing their experience of this type of change, and enabling us to retain this knowledge within the business,” Carmen said. “The key challenge experienced in the early days was that, previously, there was no real measure of volume. We soon learned that, in fact, there was 25% more volume of work than we had expected! So we needed to ramp up quickly and that was a challenge in itself.” [In order to move fast, the HR SSC lifted and shifted, and then applied continuous improvement to drive efficiencies.]

Another valuable learning Carmen shared with the group was that the KPIs her team developed at launch were not necessarily the metrics that the business partners cared about.

“We moved swiftly to adjust our performance indicators to align more with what the business was interested in,” she said.


Note: Sodexo’s Manchester SSC opened its doors to delegates from the European Shared Services and Outsourcing Week on May 15, 2017. Delegates were able to tour the premises, ask questions of management, and get a deeper insight to the successes but also the challenges that local teams were striving to overcome.

SSON’s runs site tours in conjunction with its flagship events across the world. For more information, please see here.